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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Movie Review: THE RAVEN

John Cusack in The Raven
John Cusack in The Raven. (PHOTO SUPPLIED)

Movie Reviews
By Bernie Jablonski

Hey, I had a good time at The Raven. Being a fan of Poe’s writings from way back (and often being whipped into a state of anxiety by them when I was in grammar school; my father wouldn’t let me read my brothers’ Macbeth Classics Illustrated comic book, but he let me read this?), I enjoyed the appropriately gloomy atmosphere created by the well-detailed sets and costumes, the references to the stories (most of which I’d read), and the wit that tinged much of the dialogue.

The movie purports to reveal what happened to Poe, the great American writer of horror-imbued short stories and poetry, the days before being found dead on a Baltimore park bench (I had read that he was found in a Baltimore gutter, but hey). That would happen to be the fact that he was asked by the police to help solve a series of murders, compared by someone copying the gruesome deaths found in his stories (a pertinent ship is named Fortunato, a woman is stuffed up a chimney, evil things happen at a costume ball, a man is decapitated by a heavy bladed on an ever-lowering pendulum; I always have wondered how crazed mass murderers can afford the money, time, and effort to install meticulously constructed death machines like this in their homes or wherever, but hey).

When Poe’s fiancé, Emily, is abducted by the unknown fiend and buried alive (prematurely, ‘natch) his interest in solving the mystery increases, and he teams up with a policeman who has faith in him, and with the logic often seen employed by Batman and Robin as they deciphered clues left by megalomaniacal villains on TV in the 1960s, they dash about, often arriving at key places just a few..minutes…too…late.

 Poe also has to unite with Emily’s father (who hates him, but hey) to rescue his daughter, and there is one seen involving the process of determining latitude and longitude using authentic-looking navigational instruments of the 19th century, and  I geeked out, but hey, that’s me. (Brendan Gleeson plays the father, and I’m trying to remember a movie in recent history in which he did not appear.

I enjoy  this kind of stuff. I even thought John Cusack was a decent enough Poe, which surprised me, because before I saw the movie, I was imagining a man with a cloak, moustache, and dark hair holding a boom-box over his head, or maybe the eponymous bird, like Kunta Kinte. What eased me into accepting the performance was that when we first meet him, Poe is raising drunken holy hell in a tavern where he owes money (damn those Deeply Troubled Writers!), promising the barkeep that once his latest story is published, he will have enough to buy everyone rounds several times over. Once we see Cusack making these early scenes work (and appearing to be having a good time), the scenes where he is frustrated, or enraged, or tender, work. I would be curious to see if Cusack was down the list of actors wanted for the part. My first guess might have been Russell Crowe, but hey.

Official trailer – review continues below.

Alice Eve, as Emily, does deliver a particularly tender moment in the movie when at first believing that her darling Edgar wrote his poem “Annabel Lee” for her, she then realizes how touching its beauty is as a love poem, and reads a stanza aloud. That little Brit girl playing an American can really get a morbid 19th-century love poem across to you. Which is no mean feat, especially if you have ever read “Annabel Lee.” (Poe never does refer to Emily as “Lenore,”and that kinda disappointed me, but…you understand.)

I haven’t read any reviews yet, but from what I understand, the movie isn’t receiving a lot of love. Whatever. I mostly loved the atmosphere and use of locations; to look more like 19th-century Baltimore, the film was shot in Hungary and Serbia. The plot’s a bit familiar, but the actors are all up for it. Just think of those fourteen Poe adaptations producer-director Roger Corman filmed in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s no Masque of the Red Death or House of Usher, but it isn’t exactly The Oblong Box either.

Bernie Jablonski teaches Mass Media and Film Study in the Fine Arts Department at Marian Catholic High School.

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